Spinal cord injury (SCI) is defined as a damage to the spinal cord that leads to either permanent or temporary loss of sensory, automatic, or motor functioning (Fouad and Pearson, 107). Spinal cord injury patients regularly have undying and distressing neurological disability and deficit. Common causes of SCI injuries include trauma, for instance from falls, gunshots and car accidents, or diseases such as spina bifida, and polio. A person cannot suffer from SCI injury if an accident or a disease only damages the vertebrae. However, this will only happen if they affect the spinal cord. Once SCI has been suspected, it is imperative to ascertain the diagnosis and start treatment to avert further injury from either respiratory insufficiency or mechanical volatility secondary to injury resulting from harmful effects of cardiovascular instability. There are many forms of SCI treatments, but this paper shall examine the latest remedies.
Pharmacological Agents and Electrical Simulation
Perhaps the greatest and latest breakthrough in SCI treatment is the news that a team of scientists in New Zealand, early this year (2012), discovered medication that could help SCI patients walk again. The team from International Paraplegic Foundation and led by Gregoire Coutine, developed a drug that enabled paralyzed rats to move. In Countine’s words, they “administered the cocktail of pharmacological agents and applied electrical stimulation on the dorsal aspect of the spinal cord” (Pennycott et al, 23). The findings have brought hope to many patients as reports indicate that human trials are due on course (Fouad and Pearson, 122). This discovery is entirely exciting because it is one of a kind, and for the first time, there is a possibility of a SCI recovery. This method allows the spinal cord to repair in a natural way as its lower section starts to receive projections from the brain.
Stem Cell Treatment
Even though, stem cell intervention to SCI started some years ago, a tangible breakthrough occurred just recently. Scientists have established that this form of treatment enhances mobility after the injury. Stem cells, especially from the brain, can be utilized to restore movement among paralyzed patients. Pennycott et al (20) state that rats with various SCIs “were transplant with neural stem cells (NSCs)” in a study carried out by scientists from Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Japan. The drug used to cure epilepsy, Valproic acid, was then administered to help the transplanted cells produce nerve cells (Pennycott et al, 50). The outcome was impressive as the combination therapy restored the function of hind limbs. According to the lead researcher, Kinichi Nakashima, the intervention could be advanced into a valuable cure for severe SCIs.
According researches, stem cells obtained from the coating of the spinal cord referred to as ependymal stem cells, can repair paralysis linked to SCIs in the laboratory experiments. The findings indicate that the quantity of these cells, after SCI was significantly higher than in similar cells from fit animal subjects (Pennycott et al, 15). These discoveries open a new window on regenerative approaches concerning spinal cord.
Even though, it was believed that no drug could repair a SCI, scientists have worked hard in the labs to invent a drug that can ensure that patients regain a majority, if not all, of their nerve operations. A drug that was first discovered seems to repeal the impacts of nerve damage. First discovered in 2009 after many years of research, 4-aminopyridine-3-methyl hydroxide can be used to repair the damaged nerves in SCIs by stopping short circuits generated due to exposure of tiny “potassium channels” present in fibers (Pennycott et al, 26). This compound could also be used as a cure for multiple sclerosis (MS) because the two afflictions are affected through destruction of myelin. Myelin is the sheath that covers nerve fibers. 4-aminopyridine-3-methyl hydroxide restores the functions of injured axons, slim fibers that stretch from nerve cells and conveys electrical impulses within the spinal cord. This compound is derived from a drug referred to as 4-aminopyridine, used majorly for research and to manage symptoms of MS.
On the other hand, using a laboratory procedure called patch clamp, researchers have established that 4-aminopyridine-3-methyl hydroxide is an excellent “potassium channel blocker” (Pennycott et al, 46). Consequently, this compound stops the exposed channels from trickling electrical current and improves nerve conduction within parts of the injured spinal cord (Taub et al, 230). This drug could ensure cure for spinal cord damage by aiding axons to transit impulses as though they were still covered with myelin. The compound has various advantages because it restores the functions of the nerves without interfering with the refractory period and it 10 times more effective than the presently prescribed 4-aminopyridine. This implies that lower can be used to minimize the chances of severe side effects (Pennycott et al, 40).
Intermittent Hypoxia (Oxygen Deprivation)
This is a new intervention/ therapy devised by researchers to cure spinal cord injury. This therapy makes use of oxygen deprivation to prompt molecular changes that awaken or excite the patient’s nervous system (Fouad and Pearson, 110). The therapy employs acute intermittent hypoxia, whose roots can be traced back to sleep apnea studies. Patients with sleep apnea encounter short moments of oxygen deprivation, which arouses spinal plasticity (the capacity of the nervous system and the brain to react to injury). Intermittent hypoxia was experimented on paralyzed subjects to establish its impact. A breathing mask was placed on them and then “connected to an air generator that stimulates the air at the peak of Mount McKinley then returns the air to normal” (WNDU). The results indicated that nerve cells linked to voluntary leg strength were aroused through a 30-minute period of mild oxygen deprivation. In the end, the process improved ankle potency, lasting for four hours (Taub et al, 228).
To sum up the whole discussion, spinal cord injuries have a particularly devastating impact upon the lives of patients. This is because they are often forced to stay with a disability for the rest of their lives. For a long time, scientists have struggled to look for SCI cure and recently some breakthrough has been attained. Patients have a reason to smile because of the cure that has demonstrated positive results with rats. Major breakthrough in the search for SCI cure includes stem cell treatment, 4-aminopyridine-3-methyl hydroxide drugs, intermittent hypoxia and a combination of pharmacological agents and electrical simulation